At first glance Scott Groeniger’s work seems to be something that could be readily produced by anyone handy with Adobe Photoshop, a scanner and an archive of books rescued from a dying library. Contemporary art is full of ironic remixes and juxtapositions of diverse materials and techniques. The game is so easy that Tumblrverse (arguably the home country of the digitally indigenous) mocks our era of electronic reproduction through aesthetic races to the bottom.
In this wide-ranging solo exhibition, Groeniger makes it clear that he not only takes the present moment seriously, but believes in deeply engaging the digital on its own terms. This means dragging the pixels off of the screen, roughing them up a bit and seeing how they survive an analog world informed by the tactics and techniques of printmaking.
Each set of works braids multiple concepts and routes them through several modes of production. The "Home at Last" series was born in a 3-by-5-inch notebook of experimental prints sampled from a 1950s guide to suburban living, combined with freehand ink drawings and handwriting.
Groeniger scanned facing pages and blew them up to 22-by-30-inch images. Digitally restricting color ranges in the scan allowed him to emphasize certain "frequencies" of his drawings and print them separately, either via an archival inkjet printer or screen-printed gold metallic ink.
"Home at Last" comments on his own background growing up in suburban Ohio, subject to the American Dream of perfected ergonomics, two cars and the autonomous isolation of the nuclear family. These pieces neatly align with Oahu’s own reckless suburban development. Groeniger’s maps of homes arranged on cul-de-sacs, interchangeable floor plans and idealized appliances and homeowners could refer to Mililani, Kapolei or whatever future grows in Hoopili.
Works by Scott Groeniger
» On exhibit: Monday to Sept. 18; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays to Fridays and noon to 4 p.m. Sundays
In "Habitable Zones" Groeniger projects the suburbs into space, pointing to a science-fiction colonial solution for the planet’s ecological crisis. Some prints in the series are highly abstract, layering grids, webbing and patches of barbed-wired density atop the crisscrossing paths of rhumb (radiating navigation) lines.
Others mash up rocketry texts (sliced along the rhumbs) with schematic drawings of launch vehicles and lab rats. Both anticipate life in space organized according to rational grids, flight trajectories and the same kind of blind accumulation that characterizes earthbound suburbs.
Groeniger’s triangulating map lines reappear in the infrastructure of the heavily layered images in his "Hard Core" series. Printed on an exotic surface of marble dust, polymer and gelatin, these 12-by-12-inch images read like heavy-metal album covers when they are actually subtle critiques of colonialism.
Created during a residency in Amsterdam, the "Hard Core" images are based on close-up photographs of the markers that indicate the location of crypts beneath church floors. Featuring numbers, copper plates and death motifs, the rhumb lines return to "mark the spot," and to reference the role that navigation played in the success of Dutch colonialism. In these works we find a fantastic recombination of historic and aesthetic factors that create one of the strongest through-lines in Groeniger’s show. If we began in his past, on Earth, this path concludes in orbit and beyond — but as an act of repetition, and herein the underlying skepticism in the work.
His series of satellite "portraits" are large-scale examples of his analog-to-digital-to-analog production cycle. "Lageos" could be a micrograph of pollen printed on a giant pirate map. In real life "Lageos" is basically a disco ball used for precise laser-based measurements. The satellite prints take the grit, plate slippage and impressionistic half-tone techniques (glitches), along with the selective lifting or emphasis of certain visual elements, and reiterate themes of location and mapping.
"Meta" features two other bodies of work: a pair of videos from the time Groeniger spent in China, and a series of prints that selectively (and pithily) sample the iconography of military training manuals. Though less glitchy, the latter set is theoretically aligned with others in the show, while the videos aren’t readily reconciled.
Ultimately, though, Groeniger has presented a unified survey of his recent work that demonstrates disciplined thinking, theoretical consistency and a genuinely experimental approach. His various "hybrid" printing techniques yield images with enough weight, texture and emotion to put to rest any lingering assumptions that "the digital" can only produce clones instead of unique works of art.